How I Use My Animal Science Degree To Save Money In Dog Care & Ownership Costs
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Note: I am not a veterinarian. These are simply my experiences with dog ownership and frugality. Nothing I say should be construed as veterinary or expert advice. Please do your own due diligence and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions involving pet care.
I have a confession: despite this being mostly a finance blog, it’s time to admit that my experience and education has been in an entirely different arena than finance or writing or website building/running or social media marketing or the 128943 other sectors involved with running a successful blog.
I have a degree in Animal and Dairy Sciences and I have been working with animals (companion, livestock and exotics) in veterinary, laboratory, and boarding facilities for basically my whole life.
I just wanted to mention my background so that you know that I have a little experience studying animal science (and to prove that it’s never too late to learn a completely different career…lol).
First, I want to say that I obviously love dogs a lot. My dog Olive is my BFF.
But dogs are super expensive. And to an extent, there’s not much you can do about some of that. Which is why I only have one right now, because I know my limits. So don’t get a dog in the first place if you’re not willing to spend some serious cash during its lifetime, because you most certainly will. But here are some ways I try to cut costs without compromising my dog’s care.
Understand basic pet nutrition
You’re probably thinking well, duh, right now. But let me explain!
So first, buy a decent food (note I didn’t tell you to rush out and buy some all organic non GMO raw super expensive diet). A decent food will be fine for any dog that doesn’t have allergies/sensitive skin/whatever. And even if your dog does get allergies, there are still lots of allergy friendly low cost foods too, don’t be discouraged.
A decent food is NOT Purina Beneful (Purina ProPlan IS decent dog food) or Old Roy or something like that. Basically, if you walk into a supermarket or a drug store, a decent food is NOT whatever the cheapest options there are. I’m not trying to say that price necessarily = quality, but the literally cheapest food usually does = lowest quality dog food you can buy.
Don’t humanize your dog
Dogs are not humans. But we love to anthropomorphize them anyway. I believe this is one of the biggest factors in the dog obesity epidemic we see today. We equate our dogs eating with happiness and we equate the food our dog likes the most with how we too have a “favorite food”. Don’t buy a food because your dog “loves” it.
There are several essential components to a balanced dog diet (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, etc), but I want to do a very special section just on fats. Pet food companies spray foods with fats to increase palatability, because they know that the person buying the food likes to watch their dog scarf it down.
But higher palatability does not = higher nutritional content.
A food with higher fat content can be higher in nutritional value than a food with a lower fat content, but fat percentages in and of itself does not equal more nutritional value. In fact, if the fat percentage is too high, it would likely be indicative of a lower quality food.
I knew a person who was feeding her dog Brand A of food because she said her dog preferred it to Brand B. I read the nutritional analysis of both brands, and thought no wonder the dog likes Brand A more, it had 10+% more fat than Brand B!!
Fats are important for palatability and because they supply essential fatty acids, so I’m definitely not saying put your dog on a no-fat diet or anything. I just wanted to discuss some of the reasons why a dog may prefer one food over another, and that it does not necessarily mean the dog “knows what’s best for itself” and is picking the food with the higher nutritional content.
(Also, if your dog is consuming too many fats, you will probably see it manifested in obesity and/or fatty stools.)
Feeding your pet
Obesity is the most common nutritional disorder, with 10-15% of pets being overweight. Obesity is bad not just because it costs you more money since you’re feeding your pet more than what they need, but because it negatively impacts your pet’s health and longevity.
Some causes of obesity are as follows:
- Overfeeding and/or access to very palatable and high energy diets
- Treat them like people
- Feeding several times per day (regardless of their needs)
- Interpreting hunger and eating as a sign of health
- Guilty feelings (left alone all day)
- Ignoring calories from snacks, treats, table scraps, etc
- Animals fed together consume more than single animals (competition)
- Pets are often rewarded for eating (treats)
- Pets are then trained that eating pleases the owner
- Cycle continues
- Overfeeding and/or access to very palatable and high energy diets
Recommended feeding amount
First and foremost, understand how to score your dog’s body condition. You want them to be ideal. I would also google idea weight + your dog’s breed. Or if they are a mixed breed, google that mix if it’s popular, or whatever breed they most closely resemble if it’s not pulling up a lot of good results.
For example, my dog is an American Staffordshire terrier/bulldog/hound mix, but that’s not a popular mixed breed. She looks the most like an American Staffy so I just searched google images for American Staffy ideal weight to get started.
Another fantastic place to study your dog’s ideal weight is by searching dog shows, since most of these dogs, and especially most of the winners, are going to be just about perfect weight wise for their breed standard.
Again, I just searched on Youtube “american staffordshire terrier best of breed/dog shows/best of sex/whatever”. It only takes a couple minutes to do this and really gives you a great foundation for being able to quickly assess your dog’s body condition score.
Also, you do want to pay special attention to the differences between sexes. For example, if you have a male dog, don’t just look up females. You’d obviously want to focus on the males of your breed.
Next, there are very exact ways to formulate a pet’s diet (and in fact whole careers are made on diet formulation), but I will not bore you with the exact formulas. Just get out your bag of dog food and read the label to get you started. And understand that that recommended feeding guideline is meant to get you started, not as an exact number.
If your dog is not very active, you may not even need to feed the minimum recommendation, you could probably go even lower. Likewise, if your dog is very active (as in a hunting dog, not as in you take him for a mile long walk every other day), you may need to be feeding more than the recommended amount. As a general guide, +25% for moderate activity and +60% for heavy activity (hunting dog). You will also adjust for your dog’s age, if they have a fever, or if they are pregnant or lactating.
But you don’t need to get overwhelmed. The easiest way to feed is to start by looking at YOUR dog food’s recommended guidelines (each food is different by the way), and then looking at your dog. If they are at an optimal weight, then just keep doing what you’re doing. If they are too fat or too skinny (too skinny with a loving, good owner is super rare fyi, if your dog isn’t optimal, then it’s probably overweight), then adjust accordingly.
And when you’re adjusting accordingly, don’t forget about EVERYTHING that you may be feeding your dog that isn’t dog food. If you’re feeding them a can of dog food as a “treat” or half a plate of table scraps each meal (which I would not suggest doing unless you’re eating dog food as a meal, many human foods are not good for dogs even though dogs would like you to believe otherwise…), then adjust that out of how much you’re feeding them in dog food.
Now if you’re giving them a couple tiny milkbones a day, you probably don’t need to worry about subtracting that out of their daily diet. You can just use good judgement here.
Lastly, understand that the number you come up with can vary, just like people. If your dog gets a lot of exercise one day, and doesn’t get any the next day, don’t feed them the same amount both days. Feed them more on the high exercise day than you do on the low exercise day.
(On average, I’ll feed my dog as much as 3 cups of food a day, and as low as 2 cups a day. That’s a difference of 1 whole cup! Depending on the size of your dog and the level of variation in exercise, your difference could be even more! Think of the savings!)
Knowing when a splurge will save you money in the long run
Sometimes there’s just no choice, you have to just spend the money on your dog. But you can justify it a little by understanding that a little splurge now will save you from a huge splurge later. A great example of this would by buying a good food for your dog and feeding them correctly as mentioned above-you’re saved from the costs of obesity (which leads to more health issues which equal more money and costs you more in the dog food budget overall).
Another example is heartworm preventatives. I have seriously wanted to strangle some people here. They say, “it’s just too expensive!” Guess what is a lot more expensive (and can be very painful for the dog!!)? That would be the heartworm treatment when your dog gets heartworms because you’re too irresponsible to take basic care of them and have them on a preventative.
You will not find any veterinarian in the entire South who doesn’t recommend that you keep your dog on a preventative for most months, if not all, of the year.
If you can’t afford ~$10-40/month to keep your dog healthy, you for sure can’t afford the dog at all and you definitely won’t be able to afford the treatment that can be hundreds of dollars.
I live in the south and I keep my indoor dog on a heartworm preventative 12 months out of the year, and yes, it adds up. But I have the peace of mind knowing that she will never have to go through an uncomfortable, expensive and painful for her treatment. This was part of the responsibility of dog ownership.
And if she were to somehow magically contract heartworms while on the preventative, my heartworm preventative company would pay to have her treatment covered in full. (Note: there are many hoops you have to jump through for this perk. You must have records of a negative heartworm test on your dog, the weight, and then records of you buying x amount of months of that preventative for the correct weight. So for example you need to have a HW negative test, 6 months of your preventative for the dog’s correct size, and then in the 6th month, the results that your dog has heartworms. And my preventative only covers treatment if I have all that and the proof I bought my preventative from a licensed veterinarian. So sorry, no Amazon allowed for this perk. 🙁 )
Call all your vets in the area for quotes on HW preventatives or office visits or whatever. They almost never have the same prices, on anything, I’ve found. Once, the difference between vets was more than $100!
Many rescues also will do super great deals on veterinary care like spaying/neutering and vaccines. I used to buy many of my dog’s vaccines at the local co-op for around $5-7, depending on the type of vaccine. This is so much cheaper than it would have been at a vet’s office.
A rabies vaccine can only be given by a licensed veterinarian, but I still got this done for $5 flat because the local humane society would have their vet volunteer to do a $5 rabies vaccines days at the shelter two or even three times a year. I just had to wait in a little line.
Deals like this aren’t usually heavily advertised I’ve found, so “like” or follow all your local rescue groups on social media to hear about the deals. Or ask your vet if he or she knows of any discounts.
Almost every vet I’ve ever met is in the business because they love animals and they are awesome people. They want to get animals the best care they can, even if it means they’re not making any money (sometimes they even lose money helping us out). They just want to help you and your animals out.
They should never have any problem writing you a heartworm preventative prescription, or even trying to match the price, if you say you’ve found a different vet that sells it cheaper. If they do refuse, find a different vet. No one should make you feel bad for trying to save money while still taking the very best care of your dog.
Understanding true medical emergencies (AKA take your dog to the vet!)
If your dog ate a whole bottle of prescription medication here or broke its leg because it got hit by a car, sorry, but they need to go to a vet. If you think something is wrong with your dog and they’re having excessive diarrhea and vomiting, don’t text your vet tech friends, just take them to the vet. If anything seems wrong, take them to the vet. If you have any doubt about anything TAKE THEM TO THE VET.
Veterinarians have done 4 years undergrad and 4 years in vet school, and then many specialize which requires even more schooling than that. They are educated, they are worth the money, they can treat your pet better than you. It’s literally their job.
Having said all that, I also encourage you to use your judgement. In non-emergency situations, I have successfully treated my dog at home with NO vet bills!
But I would always take my dog to a vet if it were a real emergency.
I have an education and years of experience in animal science with a concentration in veterinary medicine. This does not make me a vet, but it does make me able to recognize the signs and symptoms of a dog truly in distress/a real emergency that would require a vet visit.
If you don’t know the differences between serious symptoms and not-as-serious symptoms (and even the most minor of symptoms can quickly turn into serious symptoms), take your dog to the vet PLEASE. (Do you get my overall message here? If you have 1 ounce of doubt, just take them to the vet. Don’t text your vet/vet tech friends, my dog has been throwing up for 5 days, what do you think is wrong? They will be replying with please for the love of God just go to your vet.)
But if you do feel capable of using your judgement between what may require a vet visit and what may not, read on.
(Also, if you’re not sure, you can always call your vet! My vet has never charged me anything for a call. If it’s not normal business hours, call your local emergency vet. They can help you too.)
So your vet says it ok to treat at home…
Many human meds can be used on dogs too! Remember, OTC doesn’t equal safe, especially with dogs. Any dog can have a bad reaction. So, again, always consult your vet before using any of these, and there are actually quite a few human OTC meds that are ok to use on dogs, but here are a couple of my favorites:
- Benadryl: for allergies/itching. I have also seen it used with very hyper dogs to calm them down, such as when they’ve been recently neutered and need to stay confined to a crate/whatever
- Pepto Bismol: my lifesaver. This is my favorite tip in this whole post. So my dog basically gets diarrhea anytime someone feeds her something that’s not dog food/dog treats. Pepto has saved both my life and my carpets. You can buy Pepto pills but the last time I bought some the liquid bottle was cheaper so I bought that. Then I take some gastrointestinal health canned dog food (which is literally amazing for soothing upset dog stomachs AND/OR getting picky dogs to eat their food), water it down (to save money obvi) and smash it up until it’s like stew consistency (gross I know), and add the pepto dosage. My dog always laps it all up, upset stomach or not. Alternatively to pills, you could get a syringe and squirt it down their throat. I really prefer to use the wet food though, because that helps soothe her stomach in addition to the Pepto. I then redose as necessary, about every 6 hours.
Buying reusable toys/repairing destroyed toys
My dog really only likes food related toys. So i bought her a couple of KONG Classic Large toys(one can be in the freezer or being washed and one can be out for her to play with) and stuff them with the canned dog food from earlier or something cheaper like peanut butter (make sure it’s only made with dog friendly ingredients or make your own which is also super easy).
I made two one time purchases and she will love them for years. Or i buy stuffed bones (many people will argue the dangers of giving dogs any bones as they have the potential to cause serious injuries, and likewise, many people will argue the benefits of giving dogs bones, FYI), and then restuff them myself (just like a Kong, you just stuff them with whatever you want).
Before I had my current dog, I had a dog that loved stuffed toys. He’d destroy them in seconds. Instead of throwing away those mutilated scraps of fabric, I’d just sew them back together. More fun for the dog and you don’t have to buy another toy to achieve that!
Sure, after the third or fourth time sewing them back up they’d look like Frankenstein, but at least you’re not spending anymore money? Plus, my dog never cared, he’d have just as much fun ripping his toy to pieces the fourth time as he did the first. I also used stronger thread than what the toy companies usually used so it would usually take him longer and longer with each time I repaired it, which is yet another added bonus. When it got all gross and slobbery, I’d throw it in the washer.
Don’t worry if you don’t know how to sew. All you need is one needle and some thread. Thread your thread through the eye of the needle and tie a knot at the end. Then, stitch up the toy and tie it off at the end once you’ve got it stitched up. It doesn’t have to be pretty, your dog isn’t going to criticize you. You can always search for sewing videos if you want to make it pretty!
Doing your own grooming
As someone who has worked in the grooming industry for years, I will just say that I would never let a stranger groom my dog. I have seen some TERRIBLE people in that industry, and these are all at places with 5 star reviews. 5 stars. For that reason alone, I don’t trust anyone with my dog, but another reason could be money.
You could save so much money if you groom your dog yourself, and I promise you that you can do it yourself. There are grooming how to videos for basically every breed out there and if you can’t find your breed, you can find a grooming tutorial for a breed that is similar enough.
Yes, you will probably have to spend some money to groom your own dog. But I am sure it will be less money than what you would spend if you pay to have a dog groomed its whole life. And yes, it can be a big time requirement. For a short hair dog, maybe an hour a month, but a dog like a poodle, it will be several hours a month and you will have to buy a lot of equipment. But you can do it, and you will get faster. And hair always grows back if you make a mistake on that poodle.
Perhaps you don’t want your dog looking like a hot mess though while you’re getting started…
A GREAT idea I heard from a girl the other day was about how she groomed her toy poodle. She had a set of clippers and could shave her dog down ok on her own at home. So she would mostly do her dog that way, but she said when she wanted her dog really looking cute, like when she was going to have a party or something, she’d take it into the groomers. This way, her dog was kept clean and comfortable year round, and looked super cute to her guests, but she wasn’t breaking the bank having her dog professionally groomed every 6 weeks. And even using this method, the cost of her equipment was still less than the costs she would have accumulated if she had been having her dog professionally groomed more often.
Well, those are some of the ways I try to cut costs on dog care without cutting the quality of dog care. We all love our dogs and want the very best for them, but at the same time, if we try to be frugal in every other aspect of our lives, why shouldn’t we try to apply frugality to high-quality pet care too?
Question for my readers: did you like this post? Would you like to see me do more posts more in depth on some of my points, like animal nutrition or diet formulation or grooming? And do you have anymore tips on saving money on pet care you’d like to share?